James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Archive for August, 2012

Republican platform: gallows for GOP suicide?

Posted by James McPherson on August 25, 2012

It has seemed for some time as if the Republican Party is suicidal, and determined to make sure that Barack Obama wins re-election. Maybe Republicans just want to prove that a couple of professors who forecast a Mitt Romney win aren’t so smart. Because the schedule proposed platform for next week’s GOP national convention provide new evidence that Republicans either cluelessly think that they will win easily–perhaps by voter suppression in key states–or have simply decided that they can’t win and so might as well be entertaining as they go down in flames.

A positive sign for Romney is the fact that various media are now helping him do what he and his campaign have generally been unable to do–look more human. Though he was unfairly bashed for a ride on a personal watercraft, yesterday two major media sources–the New York Times and MSNBC–have produced largely flattering portrayals of the GOP nominee. OK, it may be stretching it to call MSNBC a major media source, but it is a generally liberal-leaning cable network that could help portray Romney as more moderate than his campaign has been. Both stories include what Times writer Sheryl Gay Stolberg calls a “crisis” narrative, details about Ann Romney’s multiple sclerosis and Mitt Romney’s auto accident in France (a head-on collision apparently caused by a priest who may have been drunk, killing a passenger in Romney’s car).

There also are signs that Romney is ready to reveal more about his faith (even if he won’t say the “M-word”), as demonstrated by a laudatory Bloomberg piece on Thursday, a Tuesday Seattle Times story picked up via the Associated Press by newspapers around the country, and the fact that the invocation for one night of the GOP convention will be given by a fellow Mormon. MSNBC has also taken advantage of Romney’s religion to do a “Rock Center” program about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on Thursday. Not that the religious aspects may matter much. As I’ve mentioned previously (demonstrating the decreasing influence of the Religious Right) it seems a bit ironic that if the Christian Right gets its way in November, for the first time ever there won’t be a single Protestant among the president, vice president and entire Supreme Court. But anyone on the far right will be voting against Obama, even if not for Romney–or, as some fruitcakes might phrase it, will favor the Mormon over the Muslim.

Bigger problems than religion come from the fact that Romney has run to the right to represent a party that is already “akin‘,” with controversies about”legitimate rape” (more evidence of the need for better science education) and a judge who suggests that Obama’s re-election could lead to “civil unrest, civil disobedience, civil war” (considering that he’s a Texan, though, his stupidity may not be particularly surprising). Still, it might be moderately surprising that Republicans will apparently repeat their Sharron Angle/Christine O’Donnell/Joe Miller/Ken Buck Tea Party debacle of two years ago with a new round of questionable candidates–Todd Akin, Ted Cruz, Richard Mourdock, Deb Fischer and  Josh Mandel–who (along with repeat loser Linda McMahon) will likely keep them from gaining control of the Senate.

Still, it would be nice if voters would cast ballots based on the actual positions of the candidates. So while party platforms rarely matter much, I would recommend that everyone check out this year’s GOP draft version (thanks Politico)–just to affirm how thoroughly the party has given up on attracting the number of women, gays and people of color that it needs to win the presidential election in November. Some of the key points of the platform would:

Admittedly, all we have so far is a draft document. But it is a draft that the New York Times accurately depicts as “more aggressive in its opposition to women’s reproductive rights and to gay rights than any in memory.” Not a good sign, for a party scrambling to come from behind. A blogger for the Guardian compares it to a useless body part: “Like party platforms, the appendix’s role is a mystery to most people: it may be a useful harbour for bacteria but can also rupture, causing pain and misery.”

Speaking of misery, in fact, Republicans may want to start praying that Hurricane Isaac will reduce Americans’ exposure to official GOP ideas, just as Hurricane Gustov disrupted the GOP convention four years ago. If that does happen, perhaps Pat Robertson and other loonies will point out that Republicans must have offended God in some way (maybe, considering the male names of the hurricanes, with the party’s official anti-gay stance). On the other hand, if this election does drive off enough Americans to lead to the death of the Republican Party–or at least to generate a future GOP “crisis narrative”–perhaps Romney can baptize it after its demise.

P.S.: Just after I posted this, the GOP announced that Isaac will indeed cancel the first day of the convention.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics, Religion, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 45 Comments »

Who is more evil–Obama or Romney?

Posted by James McPherson on August 17, 2012

It has long been a truism that people in presidential elections vote for “the lesser of two evils.” In fact, if you Google “2012 election ‘lesser of two evils'” you’ll get 384,000 hits, including a Rasmussen poll stating that’s how almost half of Americans will vote. Others using the term include writers for Time magazine, the Washington PostFox Business, NPR twice, Alternet, the Huffington PostRenew America, Politics365, the Arizona Republic, the Baltimore Sun and WorldNutsDaily. All that, despite the fact that folks such as union activist Shamus Cooke, magician Penn Jillette and late folk singer Utah Phillips have pointed out that the lesser of two evils is still evil.

Others from both the left and the right claim there is no meaningful difference between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. In fact, they are both neoconservative pro-business chickenhawks. Neither has been acting particularly presidential in this campaign, with both using record amounts of campaign money to sling mud and lie about their opponents. One important difference, though: Romney’s his Supreme Court choices would likely make the most conservative Supreme Court in history even worse.

The lack of a great choice is why I wouldn’t bother to vote for either the Democratic or the Republican ticket unless I lived in a swing state. Maybe I’ll vote for one of the candidates you’ve never heard of–though probably not birther radio host Laurie Roth, time traveler Warren Ashe, or repeat candidate Jack Fellure (against “the New World Order,” alcohol, homosexuality and gun control). Nor will I vote for anti-abortion loony Randall Terry or batcrap-crazy Terry Jones, though both are apparently running. Maybe Rosanne Barr, whose platform and vice presidential pick I like more than her singing (though the latter apparently has improved). After all, it’s not like my presidential vote will matter.

Still, most voters will cast ballots for Obama or Romney, and many will do so with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. So for those folks, the question becomes, which offers the “lesser evil”? Folks such as Michael Savage and nutty bloggers (also here) might argue that Obama is our “most evil president,” but I find that sort of hyperbole to be silly and simplistic. I’d rank Richard Nixon, Andrew Jackson, Harry Truman, George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, among others, as much nastier, though I’m also willing to admit that most may have been acting with good intent–that their “evil” was more a factor of their being human than of any satanic infuence. After all, God was on their side (also see video above).

Regardless of your definitions of evil, there is much to dislike about both candidates in this race. Obama’s case may be the more complex simply because we know more about him (or at least we should, if we’ve been paying attention). It’s tougher to categorize Romney’s “accomplishments” because he is seemingly unwilling to claim credit for his success as a governor and doesn’t want to talk about his time as a businessman–though he will claim credit for something he didn’t do. In a probable act of desperation that doesn’t seem to be paying off, he has has now tied himself to Paul Ryan (making him at least the third consecutive GOP candidate whose VP pick was more interesting than the guy at the head of the ticket). For better or worse, other folks who come with Romney include John Bolton, Robert Bork and Sheldon Adelson.

Obama’s accomplishments are many and varied; the Washington Post came up with a top 50, and there are several other lists. PolitiFact keeps a running meter of Obama promises kept. But that’s where we get back to the idea of evil. As others have pointed out, half of a Democratic Hub list of the dishonest, super-secretive and vindictive Obama administration’s accomplishments is made up of people he has killed (though crazy Republicans who like killing people just as much now claim that Obama gets too much credit). Obama’s homicide-by-drone victims include American citizens and the 16-year-old son of one American.

So, to get back to the original question: Which is the greater evil? Should we re-elect a president who has decided he has the right to kill you now, or choose the one that will be happy to simply let you die while he pays less than 1 percent in income taxes and appoints Supreme Court justices that will guarantee corporate rule throughout your lifetime–which, especially with conservative views of climate change and the environment, may not be all that long, anyway? Swing-state voters, you get to decide. The rest of us just get to live (or not) with your decision.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 21 Comments »

Romney boards Con Ryan Express in desperate bid to get campaign back on track

Posted by James McPherson on August 11, 2012

So, it’s Con Ryan’s Express. For the second consecutive presidential election, Republicans will have a vice presidential candidate who is more dynamic and interesting than the guy at the head of their ticket. No wonder that in his introduction Romney called Paul Ryan “the next president of the United States.”

Unfortunately for Romney this Paul is no saint; the choice offers obvious strengths and weaknesses, along with the Palinesque risk that the presidential race will be more about the GOP’s vice presidential nominee than about anything else.

Like most people, I got it wrong, thinking Romney would likely go with Rob Portman or Tim Pawlenty. I did mention Ryan almost as an afterthought, saying “Maybe Paul Ryan if he still thinks he needs to go right.” Apparently Romney is still more concerned with being viewed as a Massachusetts liberal healthcare pimp than as someone who has spent the campaign trying to hack off his left arm with his right.

The New Republic offers a quick look a quick look at what the party now officially stands for–ending Medicare and Medicaid we know them, privatization of Social Security, killing any semblance of government that works, and the biggest transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to rich in U.S. history. With Ryan, you can add climate change denial and “personhood” legislation.

Faced with the likelihood of defeat, Romney’s choice–like McCain’s choice of Palin–smacks of desperation. Ryan obviously is a lot smarter than Palin (OK, so Romney’s dancing horse is smarter than Palin), but could turn out to be equally polarizing. After all, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, John McCain and probably the Koch brothers all like the choice. But so do Democrats. One of the most notable things about the selection is that for perhaps the first time Romney has managed to please both liberals and conservatives at the same time, rather than having to flip-flop to do so.

In fact, as many did with Palin, conservatives might rue the choice more than liberals do. Ryan wasn’t Grover Norquist’s pick, for example, so perhaps this is another example that Norquist is losing some of his influence with Republicans. And that might be the best thing to happen in this election season, and the most positive long-term development for the GOP.

One might wonder, if Romney is enthused about his choice, why he would make the announcement early (6 a.m. where I live) on a summer Saturday. That’s a time when politicians typically are more likely to roll out bad news than good; Friday afternoon has long been recognized as best for avoiding media attention, because most of the front-line news media won’t be back until Monday, by when news can be a bit stale. That’s why I wrote last month that Romney “should release a deluge of his tax returns on a summer Friday, perhaps during the Olympics, definitely no later than the Friday before Labor Day.”

I suspect that desperation to change the conversation from his own taxes, the fact that even sources such as Fox News and the conservative-leaning Rasmussen poll had Obama leading, and perhaps a desire to make the announcement as low-key as possible (which is Romney’s style, if not Ryan’s) all combined to lead to the decision to make the announcement when he did.

Yes, a 24-hour news cycle tempers the “dead zone” timing a bit, and yes, the selection will now be the focus of the Sunday morning news shows. But the fact is, almost no one except true political junkies–virtually all of whom probably already know whom they’ll vote for in November–watches those Sunday shows. And Romney, of all people, should know that if Americans are turning on their TVs on this summer weekend it will be to watch the Olympics. On Sunday night and Monday morning more people will be talking the closing ceremonies with Adele and the Spice Girls than about Romney and Ryan. In fact, the few Americans who know anything about Ryan may outnumber those who know he has been chosen by Romney at this point.

Like most Hail-Mary passes in football or last-second half-courts shots in basketball, the effort probably will fail to deliver a victory in November, but will give the media and serious viewers a reason to hold their breath for a bit, just in case. There’s no doubt that the race just became more interesting–within the GOP, as well as over all.

Perhaps we’ll even start having a serious media conversation about what policy might look like in a Ryan/Romney–oh, sorry, Romney/Ryan–administration, if only during the vice-presidential debate. Perhaps. But I doubt it. After all, Ryan has a pretty wife and cute kids. And he’s a Catholic engaged in a “smackdown” with nuns. And now “Saturday Night Live” will have to figure out who to portray Ryan pushing granny off a cliff. I’ll bet Tina Fey could pull if off, with the right haircut.

P.S.: If you’re too young to get the reference to “Von Ryan’s Express,” it’s a film from 1965, before Paul Ryan was born.

P.P.S: Ironically, if the Christian Right gets its way in November, for the first time ever there won’t be a Protestant president, vice president, or member of the Supreme Court.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Religion, Science, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

My gift to anti-Obama conspiracy freaks

Posted by James McPherson on August 7, 2012

I confess. I’ve finally removed my blinders and have been won over by the conspiracy theorists. Admittedly, in the past I’ve made fun of birthers, truthers, gun nuts, Islamophobes, homophobes, Rush Limbaugh, the Texas Board of EducationPUMAs, lying Catholics, David Horowitz, flag fetishists, Pat Robertson, “Christmas warriors,” Michelle Malkin, “border warriors,” and other batcrap-crazy conspiracy nuts. But suddenly, with the mass killings at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, the depth of the Obama world-domination plan has all become clear to me. Clearer to me, apparently, than to anyone else. But after I explain it, I’m sure it will be plain to everyone. I’ll use lots of exclamation points and capital letters to help you understand. If only I had Glenn Beck’s chalkboard.

We now know that the racist lunatic who killed six people in Wisconsin was part of a vast Democratic/Socialist/Communist/Muslim conspiracy! The killer was born on Veterans Day 1971, meaning he was destined to become an American patriot. By then, 10-year-old Barack Obama was well on his way to becoming president of the United States. (You may laugh, but remember, someone had the foresight to plant birth announcements in Hawaii newspapers a decade earlier.)

Not surprisingly, the Wisconsin killer eventually joined the military.  He did so in 1992–the SAME YEAR that Barack Obama took his wife to Kenya, probably to wipe out any record of his birth there, and when he was starting a period as a “lecturer” teaching the methods of Saul Alinsky at the University of Chicago Law School! Furthermore, in that exact SAME YEAR of 1992–and I’m quoting word for word from Wikipedia here–“Obama directed Illinois’s Project Vote, a voter registration campaign with ten staffers and seven hundred volunteer registrars; it achieved its goal of registering 150,000 of 400,000 unregistered African Americans in the state, leading Crain’s Chicago Business to name Obama to its 1993 list of ’40 under Forty’ powers to be.” Even more unbelievably, the husband of Obama’s future Secretary of State would win the presidency in that SAME YEAR, paving the way for America’s SECOND (the number is important, as I’m about to show) black president!

The Wisconsin nutjob apparently washed out of the military in 1998, the year Obama won his SECOND Illinois state Senate term, and the SAME YEAR in which eldest Obama daughter Malia was born on the FOURTH OF JULY! Gaining confidence in his power, he later gave his SECOND daughter, Natasha, a COMMUNIST name!

By the way, “they” want you to think the killer washed out of the military. Keep in mind that he had been working in psychological operations, making him the perfect patsy to turn into a Manchurian candidate time bomb waiting to go off. So who can really be surprised that he went off a mere 14 years later, as Obama was campaigning for his second presidential election?

No, it’s obvious. The attack couldn’t be on white people, because that had just happened. And it couldn’t be against Muslims, because that might generate sympathy for Islamists–and besides, Obama wouldn’t order an attack on his own religion, right? So Sikhs, who kinda look Muslim to lots of white folk anyway, were the ideal targets of this sinister plan.

And who better to take the blame, while supporting the Obama agenda, than a veteran “constitutionalist”? That’s the question prompted by Jone’s InfoWars (“because there is a war on for your mind and Jones has lost his”).

“The US government is not only coming after the 2nd Amendment, but now framing US Army veterans in a false flag operation where extremists are the new threat,” writes someone going by the name “Susanne Posel.” That name that just happens to be an anagram for “So Sensual Pen” or “Sees No US Plan” or “No US Paleness” or “Open Anus Less” or “Lone US Ass Pen.” Coincidence? I THINK NOT!

Posted in History, Media literacy, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

No horsing around: Obama kicking Romney’s rear, Chicago-style

Posted by James McPherson on August 1, 2012

  

Barack Obama is showing a nasty side in his campaign for re-election, in a way he never did four years ago (despite tough talk and a Chicago political background). And no, I don’t know the message of the bat in the photo at the far left.

The tough approach–from the candidate who came across as “nicer” than Hillary Clinton or John McCain four years earlier–seems to be working in the states that matter most. The Republicans’ response? Whining.

I don’t like the ubiquitous negative campaigning, and I especially dislike negative campaigns combined with lying (something being done by both Obama and Mitt Romney, with a little help from Fox News). Sometimes such campaigning reflects desperation, sometime perhaps a desire to depress electoral turnout. But it would seem to work against the candidate who has no coherent message–a candidate like John McCain in 2008, for example, or like Mitt Romney in 2012.

The Obama campaign is taking advantage of the void that is Mitt Romney. “Don’t want to run on your record at Bain Capital, Mitt? Here, let us define that for you.” “Want to avoid coming up with an economic plan, while proposed an indefensible tax plan? Well, let’s talk about your own taxes then–what exactly are you trying to hide?” “Don’t want to talk about your time as governor? Let’s remind folks often that as governor you provided the model for Obamacare.” CNN’s “Gut Check” defines the Obama strategy as “campaigning 101: Define your opponent before he defines himself.”

And Romney is apparently unable to define himself, though he is finally trying. It doesn’t help when the candidate cluelessly wanders abroad, insulting your hosts and others while commending another country’s version of Romney/Obamacare. Or when the GOP’s best attack on Obama in 2008 (and 2010) and on John Kerry four years earlier, that they were out-of-touch elitest snobs, works even better against Romney. OK, GOP, Dems will take your windsurfing (not really an elitest sport, anyway) and raise you dressage.” Americans may dig “Dancing with the Stars,” but they’re not really into dancing horses, at leastnot since Roy Rogers’ horse Trigger died.

Romney’s only defense, the old standby of blaming the media just doesn’t work as well as it once did. Newsweek went too far with its “Wimp” cover, shown above, but the floundering magazine is struggling for survival as much as the Republican candidate is. The fact is, we don’t know Romney well enough to know if he’s a wimp. But what we do know, we don’t much like.

All in all, Romney’s chances of winning the presidency still appear only slightly better than Rafalca’s chances of winning Olympic gold. In platform diving.

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »